My sources at The News & Observer (where, full disclosure requires me to say, I was the Durham editor from mid-1998 to mid-2002) report that the recent turmoil at The Herald-Sun has not gone unnoticed on South McDowell Street--or in Sacramento, Calif., where McClatchy Newspapers, the N&O's parent company, is based. N&O Publisher Orage Quarles III sent a memo to the staff Friday announcing that the N&O is preparing to launch a weekly community news section in Durham, to be called The Durham News.
"As we look at how we serve our customer base in the greater Triangle market ... one can easily identify tremendous customer needs and N&O opportunities in the Durham market," Quarles wrote.
That sounds like an allusion to the outcry over the brutal way Paxton Media Group took over the H-S last month. You know the story--nearly a quarter of all employees targeted for firings and beloved fixtures like columnist Jim Wise shown the door. It also may be the result of a greater awareness of the Durham market after McClatchy execs got a look at The Herald-Sun's books in their attempt to buy the paper.
The Durham News, I'm told, is going to start up next month and run on Saturdays inside the N&O. It probably will be a lot like the North Raleigh News, the successful community news section the N&O offers to affluent readers in Raleigh's sprawling northern suburbs (stories like "School Could Go Next to Landfill" plus traffic, restaurant and shopping center columns). The N&O has already landed Jim Wise and is going after other former H-S icons. On top of that, The N&O has slashed its subscription price in Durham to $40 a year, a near giveaway from the regular rate of $158 a year.
It's good news because when one newspaper begins to put resources into a competitive market, the other paper is usually bound to follow. The Herald-Sun improved significantly when the N&O made a push into Durham in the early 1990s. The N&O's interest in Durham has waned recently as the company focused on Wake County, but now that Durham has McClatchy's attention, it puts the new Paxton owners on the spot. Close watchers (and people inside the H-S) are already bemoaning the soft edge the paper's news coverage has taken. But Paxton's leaders would be wise to heed the fate of the Anchorage Times. McClatchy bought the competing Anchorage Daily News in 1979 and pumped money into the paper until the Times folded in 1992.
As readers and members of the community, we'd much rather see a newspaper battle that enhances news coverage, not one that diminishes it.